High Grades for Hazelwood Junior High

14671148_10154615991129878_1326457754816564935_nLoveless Murder at Hazelwood High

Review by Joseph Leone

In 1991, six girls converge in the halls of a seemingly uneventful day at this middle America high school in Indiana. What the audience doesn’t realize, until much later in the play, the childhoods of these young women, ages 12 to 15, would play an integral part in the revenge on a 12 year old student Shanda (Eve Kummer Landau).

The events begin innocently enough when Shanda is lured into a playful yet intimate relationship by the boyish Amanda (Bear Spiegel); moreover, this gradually catches the attention of Melinda Loveless,, Amanda’s lesbian lover who possesses Charles Manson powers of control over the rest of the group. Her early rage begins as a jealous complaint lamenting the loss of Amanda to the younger, more charming Shanda.  Seemingly in the midst of finding her sexuality she encounters the charming Amanda; however, the magnetism between them is a palpable chemistry. This is due to the outstanding character development on the part of Landau and Spiegel. Landau plays with such engaging childlike innocence and vulnerability the audience realizes the tragic direction they are taking with the growing jealously of Melinda Loveless looming in the background. Sofie Zamchick, who plays Hope, another befitting moniker, has a tormenting conscience about the evening and the group’s knife wielding threats the group dish out  as they cruise the streets in their car. The aura of evil begins to pervade the evening when Toni (Marielle Young), who seems to personify the force of evil, learned from her mother in childhood, takes to blood drinking from the calf of Loveless, Amanda’s dominant lover. The group’s childish laughter heightens to a frenzied, unleashed mood permeating all logic, spurning rational behavior.   Young is terrific in her trancelike moods during the long evening, as if becoming the devil incarnate, hoping to color the night with evil.

Written by Rob Urbinati, the actual historical account has been the subject of numerous TV shows, including Dr. Phil. What is the blockbuster surprise at the end, years later from jail, as the sixty year sentences are pronounced, the bunch in orange jumpsuits, tell of the horrors they endured during their childhoods. The direction by Sean Pollock, an accidental circumstance of the set causes the scenes to break up the action in a nonlinear fashion at various corners of the room. The audience is seated in two rows of seats placed in the center of the room. The scenes are quick with lively pacing, leaving the audience, at times standing with anticipation to see what is happening around the room and behind them. The set is simple, leaving room for rich imagination on the part of the audience.

The final thought that rings true in the hearts and minds of  the audience is that adolescence is not always the  smooth and happy path  wrought with happy passionate encounters; s with harmless events,  people, places and most of all, innocent fun. The truism is that if the ingredients mixed in the cake batter is toxic, life’s deserts can be an everlasting repetition of the behavioral mix, leaving the bad tasting residue to linger in the minds of the young for a lifetime, permeating all human encounters. As the actors reveal their tormented pasts in orange jumpsuits, the audience comes to see why such things can occur.

 

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Politically Incorrect … and Loving it!

GUEST REVIEWER
ROBERT LIEBOWITZ, ARTS INDEPENDENT

They say there is nothing new under the sun, but they lie. Well, not technically–there actually is nothing new under the sun, nor will there ever be–but if you caught the Reverend Mary and her merry gang of  crooners at the Duplex last month, you never would’ve thunk it.

14670887_10209388846010942_6437845706153581634_nThe Rev has unearthed musical masterpieces from the 20s and 30s, songs that probably no one has ever heard, or even known to exist, and given them a 21st century life that no one shall soon forget.

Know songs that have sexual innuendo in them? Of course you do. But guess what?

Suggestive little arias like that have been around since time and memorial, and in these repressive  Politically Correct times, what a breath of fresh air to hear about the ‘sugar in my bowl’ and not have to worry about being shamed on Facebook for saying something deemed inappropriate.

Reverend Mary did it all, and then some. Besides her brilliant, bawdy voice, she brought her bawdy friends with her, dressed in a very bawdy way, and combined with a wicked sense of humor, made for a fun filled, adults only evening of superior entertainment.

14523169_10209387203689885_4645615004819256431_nMany of these songs were pre-Code, or when the Feds put their Morality Police to work in the hopes of cleaning up the movies and making them pure and wholesome. Yeah, surrrreeeee…..there is the Rev, singing songs by Mae West (yes!), Bessie Smith, and a dozen others, singing songs about about–gulp–sex. Yeah, that. No need to use anatomically correct verbiage–whats the fun in that? No, it was Euphemism City, and there were many creative uses of ordinary household words.

Hopefully the Rev (and her lovely boa, a boa that almost strangled her after every number!) will have a return engagement in the Big Apple sooner rather than later…perhaps a concert at City Hall, where the Mayor and his Brethren will get an opportunity to loosen their ties, and live a little…for after all, folks, this is how we all got here. Certainly, there is nothing shameful in that.

 

 

THE “MILKMAN’S SISTER” DELIVERS

Reviewed by Sharon Shahar

A lone, hulking man in an overcoat lumbers down the center aisle of the theater, and up onto the stage.  As he plunks down his suitcases and turns to the audience, we are almost reminded of Ralph Kramden, the belligerent bus driver whose mushy sentimentality made viewers tune in every week to “The Honeymooners” just to see him wiggle out of his latest foot-in-mouth fiasco.  But when this world-weary traveler mimes the attire and demeanor of a milkman going about his delivery rounds, the aura becomes one of comedic antics and tomfoolery all rolled into one.  However, this play is anything but a comedy and although there are humorous moments, “The Milkman’s Sister”, written by Mark Blickley, and brilliantly directed by Joe Battista, is a stinging testimony to a both a country and a marriage on the verge of crisis.

The milkman, Sal Furfante (played to perfection by the seasoned Robert Funaro), has just lost his job and is forced to move in with his sister, Nina Spinner, (played by a very energetic and engaging Concetta Rose Rella) and her abusive husband, Burt Spinner (portrayed with biting clarity and vibrancy by Dan Yaiullo).  The tension between all three is palpable but when news of the Cuban Missile Crisis descends like a black cloud over their tiny, monotonous world, it reaches suffocating proportions.

As we watch this Bronx neighborhood in 1962 (the set expertly replicates the era) unravel into utter chaos, the acrimony between these three swells to the breaking point and some disturbing insights into their lives are revealed.

“The Milkman’s Sister” is a passionate tour de force about irrational fear and paranoia, two human emotions that can drive a community of ordinary folk to the edge. Of particular note, however, is the extraordinary work of Jenne Vath (Dotty) as the loyal, longtime friend and neighbor of Nina, whose performance is poignant and altogether gut-wrenching.

Mr. Blickley’s play runs weekends through December at the 13th Street Repertory Theater (50 West 13th Street, NYC) under the guidance of its powerhouse creative director Joe Battista, who, as mentioned previously, also directed this show.  Be sure to catch this moving drama while the milkman is still making his rounds.

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Joe Battista directs the company [photo provided by 13th Street Rep] 

A ‘LINE’ WORTH GETTING INTO

SHARON SHAHAR,  guest writer

If you’re tired of the overpriced, overrated fare being served up on Broadway these days, march over to the 13th Street Repertory Theater for Israel Horovitz’s “LINE”, now celebrating its 50th year as New York City’s longest running off off broadway play.   There’s a reason for that.

Under the fast-paced, cleverly “choreographed” direction of Jay Michaels, this absurdly witty and humorous dramedy crosses all boundaries of human nature.  It begs the question, what would we do to prevail, be first, nab that coveted place in the hierarchy of society?  But when those questions are put to a lot of unseemly, desperate losers they provoke some outrageous antics and near insane behavior.

Brady Richards (Stephen) mesmerizes as the smug, very young braniac who has all the answers without even knowing the questions.  You admire and despise him at the same time, all the while puzzling over his desperate desire to be first without even knowing why it matters.

And so it goes with the rest of the very talented cast from Robert Gottlieb as the frustrated Fleming to Angelica Adams as the saucy seductress, Molly, who cuckolds her complacent husband, Arnall (masterfully portrayed by Mario Claudio) and, finally, Conor Mullen as the greedy, self-serving Dolan who we are dying to see fall on his face.

“LINE” weaves moments of hilarity into a potentially tragic human condition – the need to be number one no matter what the price.  Horovitz’s biting farce enables us to laugh at these mortal flaws, thereby helping us to see them more clearly and, quite possibly, indeed hopefully, erase them entirely.

 

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JUICY OFF-BROADWAY: Big Apple Plays include classic COULDA WOULDA SHOULDA

THREE BITES OF THE APPLE :  AS JUICY AS OFF-BROADWAY GETS

by Sharon Shahar

When it comes to theater, the Big Apple is the pick of the crop.  And when it comes to Off Off Broadway theater , THREE BITES OF THE APPLE, at American Theater of Actors (ATA) on west 54th street in Manhattan, was a sweet selection.  Written by the renowned published playwright and essayist, Robert Liebowitz, this revival of three of his one-act plays depicted the plight of the beleaguered  New Yorker (Liebowitz was a weary, frustrated cab driver when he reached for his pen) from the 1980’s through the early 21st century.

But of all three “bites”, it is one in particular that is the most satisfying. “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” the final one-act in this tantalizing trilogy.

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It is the story of one degenerate gambler Allie Neiterman (a character based loosely on Liebowitz’s own father) played by TJ Jenkins.  Mr. Jenkin’s grasp of the desperate loser’s struggle to pathetically rise above his impending downward spiral by making light of its gravity is compelling.

It is the classic demeanor of the addict in denial and the others in this cast of 40-somethings (and one outstanding 20-something) each bring their own unique approach to their characters. Anthony Gallo as the guy in charge of the social club where the action takes place is a natural as the low-life gambler who all but basks in the glow of the underboss.

Tommy Sturges (Irving Landau) brings “unlikable” to new heights in his attempt to play hero to the floundering Allie, and Ted Montuori is nothing short of brilliant as Bobo, the half-wit sidekick to the domineering Neiterman.

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But it is Jay Michaels’ performance as the mob boss Barney  Cutler that brings the action of the play to a riveting standstill when he enters the stage as the grim reaper.  It is only then that the audience really understands the magnitude of the betting game – not always a harmless bit of fun placing two bucks on the long shot, but more often a game of life and death with high-stakes loan sharks.

Allan Smithee directs with an attention to detail that left this humble reviewer knowing more about off-track betting than a seasoned gambler could teach her in a lifetime.

“Coulda Woulda Shouda” is presented with a depth and sense of reality that is clearly Broadway caliber.  The set and staging are professionally executed; the sound and lighting are perfectly suited to the 50- seat theater.

All in all, Mssrs. Liebowitz and Smithee have produced a play that is a powerhouse of poignancy, pity and pathos for the Off Off Broadway stage.  This production of “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” hits a high note in today’s Off Off Broadway repertory – certainly something any theater aficionado would want to sink his teeth into.

See Jillian Geurts held captive through November 13

jgeurts_073Trapped in Matt de Rogatis’ basement is Jillian Geurts in the American premiere of THE COLLECTOR at 59E59. She will be trapped there until just before Thanksgiving.

The Australian actress began her career working with award-winning Zen Zen Zo Physical Theater and touring internationally. She moved to NYC in 2012, where she amassed notable cred including The First Man (The New Natives),  A Tale for Winter (Scranton Shakespeare Festival), Wrecks (Underling Productions), Three Sisters (Columbia Stages).  She can be seen this month in Season Two of The Mind of a Murderer (Investigation Discovery),  as well as the feature films Abnormal Attraction (w. Malcolm McDowell) and  The Algebra of Need.

We sneaked in a few questions before her captor came home…

American premiere? That’s great! Tell us about the play.

The play is a sort of dark twisted love story. It’s two people who don’t understand each other and must exist together in incredibly tense circumstances. The fact that Frederick is keeping Miranda in his home by force sets up the story, but it sort of becomes just one element in a very strange relationship.  We discovered during rehearsal that this play is about coming face to face with “the other” – A type of person you have never come into contact with and trying to learn from and deal with them.  The play is driven by the two very different wants of these people, but that said, they are still deeply affected by each other.

We hear a lot about inspiration – or Muse – that drives an artist. What inspires you? 

I’m inspired by challenging material, things that push me out of my comfort zone and my own experience. I want to make work that creates new conversations, work that’s relentless and different from the usual. There’s no one thing that get’s me going. I’m generally pretty interested in the darker side of humanity though. The stuff we don’t really like to talk about or we’re ashamed about.

What is your process for creating a character?

I do a lot of writing and journalling and building in an analytical sort of way and then throughout rehearsal,  I try to bring all that information to the room and see how it plays out.  I draw on myself as much possible.  If a character is close to me in age and physical health, I work on smaller physical ticks, emotional history – like how does this person move based on her history, the path she’s had through life. It’s about making strong choices, but also choices that make sense.

What do you want most in your chosen profession? It’s OK to say “fame” or “wealth.”

Sustainability. Growth. Challenge.

Sally Field and Paul Newman both said of their profession… “it’s all I can do.” Is this all you can do?

There’s a lot of things I enjoy, but acting is what thrills me. I recently produced a play and I loved that too. I was in it too, so it was a crazy juggling act. So I think as long as I’m doing something to do with theater/acting/film, I’ll be happy.

Along those lines, if you couldn’t so this, what would you do?

I think I’d want to be working in the food / health industry. Or just an academic. Never leaving school ever.

How do you want [legit] history to remember you?

As someone who made things happen.

Last words? 

GO HILLARY

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